Doctor Who: “73 Yards” is About Fear and Mortality – Just Don’t Try to Explain It

The Woman

At the end of “73 Yards”, Ruby’s death from old age is what finally shortens the distance between her and her “semperdistans” follower. The rule that was keeping them so precisely apart while Ruby was alive, dissolves upon her death. In a hospice bed, 80-year-old Ruby reaches her hands towards her constant companion and at the moment of her death, goes back in time to become The Woman on the Welsh cliffside from the episode’s opening scene (who we see is wearing a scarf in tartan – a fabric Ruby has worn in various forms and at various ages). Ahead of her is the TARDIS, the Doctor, and young Ruby.

The Woman speaks: “I’m sorry I took so long, and I tried so hard. What else could I do? It took all these years, All these long years, and look at me, I was so young.”

Revisit the series of gestures that The Woman has been cycling through over the decades, and you could match them to those words. The Woman reaches out her hands (“I’m sorry I took so long, and I tried so hard”), she shrugs (“what else could I do?”), she rubs her palm (“It took all these years, all these long years”), puts her hand on her heart (“look at me”), clasps her hands together and shakes her head (“I was so young”). 

Then, The Woman whispers the repeated warning “Don’t step” to her younger self. Hearing it, Ruby stops the Doctor from stepping on and breaking the fairy circle in this timeline, which means that he doesn’t vanish from the world, the TARDIS doesn’t become a clifftop memorial, and Doctor Who series 14 continues next week with another adventure. 

Fine, you might nod. So, the Woman was afterlife-Ruby, a ghost or a glitch bound by a bizarre purgatorial law to continually orbit her living self at a set distance. She was benevolent, essentially, and had been trying to protect her living self by stopping the fairy-circle event that made Ruby’s life splinter off along this Doctor-less, family-less timeline. Except ironically, The Woman was the one who caused Ruby’s isolation by inadvertently sending everybody running scared. 

What, we want to ask, was ultimately behind it? Another God from The Pantheon? One of The Toymaker’s cruel games? (The 73-yard rule feels like part of a game, Susan Twist’s hiker character assumed that Ruby and The Woman were playing a game, Ruby’s grandmother describes the Doctor as having a “box of tricks”…) Was it a spell cast in this newly magic-welcoming Doctor Who? Fairy tales and myths, from Orpheus not being allowed to look behind him on his way back from the land of the dead, to Persephone not being allowed to eat in the underworld, are filled with arbitrary and cruel rules designed to trip people up. There’s a whiff of all that here.


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